GENEVA - More than 1,000\r\nactivists and experts attending this week\u0026#039;s Fourth World Congress\r\nAgainst the Death Penalty in this Swiss city are building a network of\r\ncooperation to support local organisations campaigning for human rights\r\nin countries that retain capital punishment.One-third of\r\nthe world\u0026#039;s countries still apply the death sentence, and 2,390 persons\r\nwere executed in 2008, according to Amnesty International (AI).\r\nNevertheless, there was marked global progress towards\r\nabolition of the death penalty in 2008, said the London-based rights\r\nwatchdog.\r\nIn fact a real change in the history of the death penalty has\r\noccurred over the last 30 years, said Mario Marazziti, spokesman for\r\nthe Community of Sant\u0026#039;Egidio, a Rome-based organisation that promotes\r\ninternational relations founded on human rights and North-South\r\ninterdependence.\r\nBack in the 1970s, only 23 countries had abolished the death\r\npenalty, by removing it from the statute books or ceasing to practice\r\nit, whereas today United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reports\r\nthat 141 nations have taken this step, or 139 countries according to\r\nAI, said Marazziti.\r\nThe discrepancy arises because \u0026quot;specialist organisations may\r\nhave access to confidential information that one or two executions have\r\nbeen carried out in a couple of countries, without any publicity,\u0026quot; so\r\nthere is doubt about the status of one or two countries, the Italian\r\nexpert said.\r\nSo \u0026quot;we have around 140 countries without the death penalty,\r\nout of 192 in the world,\u0026quot; said Marazziti, who added that the figures\r\n\u0026quot;indicate a real acceleration in at least the past 20 years.\u0026quot;\r\nAs well as strengthening an international support network for\r\nthose campaigning against court-ordered executions, the World Congress,\r\nwhich ends Friday, is planning a common strategy for the U.N. General\r\nAssembly session in December that is due to discuss a resolution for a\r\nmoratorium on the death penalty.\r\nAn appropriate strategy must include simultaneous action in\r\nevery region of the world, Marazziti told IPS. The Community of\r\nSant\u0026#039;Egidio is calling on South Africa, Russia and Brazil to commit\r\nthemselves to this effort, and help bring in other players like Mexico\r\nand Chile, he said.\r\nThat way, it cannot be argued that this is a European\r\ninitiative, or the product of a single school of thought. It will be a\r\ndemand made by the whole world, the expert said. Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of Spain, which currently\r\nholds the EU rotating presidency, confirmed that he will push for\r\napproval of the death penalty moratorium resolution at the U.N. General\r\nAssembly.\r\nOpening the World Congress on Wednesday, Zapatero said his\r\ngovernment wishes to establish an International Commission Against the\r\nDeath Penalty. Such a body would be a great help in securing universal\r\napplication of an effective moratorium by 2015, as a step towards total\r\nabolition, he said.\r\nThe year 2015 was not chosen at random: it coincides with the\r\ndeadline approved in 2000 by U.N. member countries for achieving the\r\nMillennium Development Goals (MDGs), which set targets for slashing\r\nhunger, poverty and disease and improving education, health, equality\r\nand preservation of the environment.\r\n\u0026quot;As well as slavery and torture, the death penalty must be\r\nconsigned to history. It\u0026#039;s a barbaric and old-fashioned way of\r\ninterpreting justice,\u0026quot; said Marazziti.\r\n\u0026quot;I think the MDGs mean that life must be respected under any\r\ncircumstances, even when there is suspicion of a crime,\u0026quot; he said. \u0026quot;I\r\nwant that to be respected, because not all the MDGs are respected.\u0026quot; The countries where the most executions took place in 2008 included\r\nChina (1,718), Iran (346), Saudi Arabia (102), the United States (37),\r\nPakistan (36), Iraq (34), Vietnam (19), Afghanistan (17), and North\r\nKorea and Japan (15 each).\r\nChanges are happening in the United States, Marazziti said.\r\nEven in the state of Texas, where there is a high level of support for\r\nthe death penalty, \u0026quot;only eight new death sentences were handed down in\r\n2009 whereas the previous annual average was 48. And (the states of)\r\nNew Jersey and New Mexico have abolished the death penalty within the\r\nlast two years,\u0026quot; he added. In China, two things have happened. \u0026quot;The Supreme Court removed the\r\npower to pass death sentences from the local courts two years ago, and\r\nobservers said that this should bring about a reduction of up to 30\r\npercent in new death sentences,\u0026quot; he said. And a few days ago, \u0026quot;the Supreme Court published official guidelines\r\ninstructing tribunals not to give the death penalty except for very\r\nheinous crimes or crimes against the state. So, this is another good\r\nsign,\u0026quot; Marazziti said.\r\nLast month, Mongolia abolished the death penalty. Uzbekistan\r\nhad already done so, and Kazakhstan has eliminated it for ordinary\r\ncrimes.\r\nMarazziti highlighted the cases of Cambodia, Rwanda and\r\nBurundi, \u0026quot;three countries that have really suffered the last three big\r\ngenocides in contemporary history, yet feel that only without the death\r\npenalty can a reconciliation process be started in their societies.\r\nOtherwise revenge, and the thirst for revenge, will never end.\u0026quot; These countries\u0026#039; abolition of capital punishment is \u0026quot;a very symbolic\r\nand meaningful step that can be an answer to those countries that say:\r\n\u0026#039;We have a high level of violence, we need the death penalty\u0026#039;,\u0026quot; he\r\nstressed.\r\n\u0026quot;I think that we are experiencing a positive trend to eradicate the death penalty in the world,\u0026quot; said the Italian expert.\r\nOriginally many African societies did not have the death\r\npenalty. It arrived hand in hand with colonialism, because African\r\nnations copied European constitutions and many other customs, he\r\npointed out.\r\nBut on this issue, Africa is now changing faster than the other continents, he concluded.